Warning: My dog woke me up at 3:30am and I couldn't go back to sleep so I am writing this post between yawns, with sleepy eyes, and in a cloud of stinky dog breath (his not mine). Please consider that when reading my ramblings and what is sure to be many grammar and spelling errors. ;)
|Wilson Court on Mellon St in Congress Heights|
Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry recently said that only 25% of Ward 8 residents own their home, the other 75% rent. That's a big problem. Not only do we need to get residents on the path to home ownership but we need to make sure we give them reasons to want to stay here in Ward 8 when they are ready to buy a home. It's not about limiting the number of rental properties in Ward 8 it is about improving the quality of life in Ward 8 so that people will want to buy a home here. To do that Ward 8 needs to have a shot at the same revitalization that has transformed neighborhoods west of the river.
|Ward 8 making sure our voice is heard.|
Hope may spring eternal but everyone has their limits and even the most committed and dedicated get tired of having to leave their Ward for basic amenities such as food and retail options. There are 70,000+ residents in Ward 8 and we have one sit-down restaurant (an IHOP) and only one grocery store. How that is not considered a major failing in the city's economic development plan I will never know. It should be of major concern to all DC residents, not just those that live east of the river. For this to be the Nation's Capital yet this area has less retail and food options than a second rate strip mall is just shameful.
I've said it before and I will say it again. Ward 8 can not continue to be the dumping group for all of the city's social service programs and expect businesses to invest here. We need residential and commercial variety. We need quality businesses that can provide much needed services and goods while creating jobs for our residents. We need entertainment, cultural, and education opportunities that will keep residents engaged and make Ward 8 a place people want to visit. We need homeowners who can invest in our community for the long haul and contribute to local commerce. We need a livable, walkable, and vibrant neighborhood for families to grow.
|Anacostia residents voice their concerns about|
another homeless shelter on main street
Perhaps this is why after nearly six years of living here I am skeptical about the significant positive impact t Saint Elizabeths is supposed to have on my Congress Heights neighborhood -- at least in its current form. For me, the jury is still out. Perhaps it is because I see so few east of the river residents at the table working on this project. I'm not talking about residents who attend community meetings or volunteer their time, I am talking about Ward 8 professionals who are part of the planning team and not just the community outreach portion of it. Despite my best efforts I am not convinced (yet) by all the claims made during presentations to the community. I look to what has been happening here for decades and what is happening here every day and I am not entirely hopeful for tomorrow. To be fair, I am not entirely convinced that all of our current Ward 8 "leadership" is prepared for the reality of tomorrow and thus how to make sure our residents and local business owners are prepared. It is one thing to yell "unfair" in community meetings, it is another thing to be able to articulate the deficiencies in a challenged plan, outline the specifics of a feasible plan and then execute that plan. I think that Ward 8 economic development has been prepackaged in such a way that over time I am not entirely sure that most residents and business owners know how to articulate what they need to make the powers that be accountable. And thus, the gap between east and west of the river widens, residents get frustrated, and everyone (the DC government included) starts looking for a one size fits all solution.
If I were to be 100% honest I am way more excited (and hopeful) about what is happening in the Anacostia neighborhood now than what may be happening in Congress Heights later. There is a buzz of activity on that end of the MLK corridor that has me wondering why things seem so silent and sporadic on this end.
Full Disclosure: I think everyone now knows I work for a nonprofit organization in Anacostia and our mission is the revitalization of Anacostia through the creative economy and small business development. We don't work on big projects, our focus is the development of local small businesses and bringing opportunities to Anacostia (like the new Anacostia playhouse) that are in line with the neighborhood's short and long-term needs and goals. While my job gives me an opportunity to work on economic development opportunities for Anacostia it's not the only reason why I am so hopeful. In my humble opinion things are coming together faster (and in a more comprehensive way) in Anacostia because the small businesses, landowners and residents of that neighborhood are doing three things right. The first, everyone is working together; second, they are not putting all their eggs in one basket; third they are open to partnerships from both within and outside of Ward 8.
|LUMEN8Anacostia Festival in Anacostia|
|The HIVE 2.0 Grand Opening in Anacostia|
In closing, please don't take these rambling thoughts as me no longer believing in the success of Congress Heights. I still do believe that one day this neighborhood and other Ward 8 neighborhoods will reach their full potential and will be considered some of the best neighborhoods in all of Washington, DC. I am just realizing that the path may be different from what I thought when I first moved here with the bright eyed optimism of a new resident.
One thing is for sure. We still have a long road ahead.
Editor's Note: This post was originally posted briefly on 12/2/12 then I took it down to craft a shorter OpEd piece that is now ready. Still deciding when and where I am going to post the OpEd piece. Hugs to my dear friend who worked super hard to condense my sleep deprived ramblings into a 500 word essay. I hope you get to see it soon.
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